Title: the Importance of being Earnest

Category: Culture
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Pages:  7
Words:  2157
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Characteristics of the Genre: “The Importance of Being Earnest” is a mix of genres: satire and comedy of manners. Comedy of manners is shown in the play through the flamboyant characters, Algernon and Jack, and their witty conversations with each other. The satirical dialogue in the play has elements of sexual jokes and puns, this is significant as it conveys the purpose of the play which is to mock the ways of the Victorian society and people’s mindset towards marriage. Through satire, Wilde is able to create a comic effect from the character’s personalities and dialogue about love and marriage.

Plot Summary

Exposition: The play starts with Jack traveling to the city to visit Algernon’s place with the intentions of proposing to Algernon’s cousin, named Gwendolyn Fairfax. Jack confesses to Algernon that he has been living a double life and that his name isn’t Ernest.

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Conflict: The conflict occurs when Lady Bracknell refuses hand over her daughter to Jack. She assumes that since he has no memories of his ancestry, he has no title, class, or connections, therefore, he has no money.

Climax/Turning Point: The climax occurs when Algernon pays a visit to the countryside pretending to be Ernest. He immediately falls in love with Cecily and decides to marry her. At the same time Gwendolyn arrives looking for Ernest (Jack), Cecily and Gwendolyn end up fighting over Ernest.

Resolution/Denouement: Jack learns about his past, that he was actually forgotten in a train station and that his real name is Ernest. He also finds out that Algernon is his younger brother and he learns the Importance of Being Ernest.


Point of View – “The Importance of Being Earnest” is told from the third person point of view. Although there is no official narrator, it does tell the story of Algernon and Jack, but it is important to note that their thoughts or feelings are never really revealed. The significance of this is that because only the characters words and actions are known, their intent could be very different from the way they act, this shows bias in the fact that little about the characters can actually be seen.

Structure – Wilde arranges the play in a specific order, this has the purpose of building up to the conflict and climax, so he is able to produce drama. Wilde also leaves the plot up to interpretation during the first two acts, keeping the audience on the edge about the future between the two couples and their marriage. After that the drama appears when there are roadblocks in Algernon and Jack’s path that prevents them from marrying the women. Most parts of the play have gaps in between, in this way Wilde is able to let the audience fill in the missing information, like for example something that is never explained was, what were Jack’s parents like?

Diction – Much of the dialogue in The Importance of Being Earnest is exaggerated, this is significant as it adds to the drama during the conflicts and climax. In this case, Gwendolyn when she speaks to Jack about the name Ernest, how she exaggerates the importance of the name, describing the name Jack as a “notorious domesticity” and the “entrancing pleasure “of the name Ernest. Also, the word choice of the upper class is significant as well, it is obvious that characters such as Lady Bracknell speaks differently compared to the rest of the characters. In this way it shows how she values her appearance and how she must fit into the social level but is ironic in the sense that she was not brought up in the upper class.

Syntax – The play contains ambiguous syntax; this is because Wilde includes many puns in his dialogues where the lines can be interpreted in more ways than one. This produces the intended sarcastic manner that Wilde writes in and is important to the plot of the story as it helps foreshadow what will happen next. Parallel syntax is also prevalent where the characters speak and have the same though process as one another. This is important because it helps the characters develop and the story to progress.

Imagery – Wilde uses auditory and visual images in” The Importance of being Ernest” the first instances of visual imagery appears in Act I right in the opening scene where Algernon can be seen relaxing with afternoon tea. Wilde describes the room as “luxuriously and artistically furnished” revealing the lavish lifestyle of the rich of the Victorian Era. This brings forth the feeling of the materialistic nature of the rich to look according to their class and respectable enough to be seen in front of others. Auditory imagery helps add to the mood of the play with Wilde’s attention to certain details in the play such as the doorbell: “”sound of an electric bell is heard” and “Only relatives, or creditors, ever ring in that Wagnerian manner.” The attention to detail helps with the development of the characters and how they act.

Tone – Wilde employs a satirical tone throughout the entire play, this tone is so that Wilde is able to successfully mock the ways of the upper class of Victorian society. The mockery of the upper class also has another purpose, other than the ridicule towards the people, Wilde also criticizes the education system as well. In one instance, when Lady Bracknell speaks on the topic of education, she seems serious, but her statements are far from real or right.


“My dear Algy, you talk as if you were a dentist. It is very vulgar to talk like a dentist when one isn’t a dentist. It produces a false impression,”

Wilde’s play is packed with dialogues that include puns, jokes, epigrams, and aphorisms. This produces the intended satire and comedic effect that Wilde is trying to achieve, while being funny and trying to point out the right form wrong at the same time. The quote above is an example of Wilde’s writing style as it shows Jack mocking Algernon while being able to throw a pun in the joke because “impression” can also indicate a procedure that dentists preform to get and imprint of tissues in the mouth.

Significance of Setting(s) Act I take place in London (West End), specifically Algernon’s flat. The setting here describes the luxury that Algernon lives in, with the city representing the upper class. Wilde is able to mock the lifestyle of the rich through the setting, placing emphasis on the major difference on the manners and customs of the rich and the barrier that divides the rich and poor. The setting of the play gradually shifts to the countryside in Act II, Wilde includes in Cecily dialogue a description of the country. She reveals the uniqueness and beauty of the area and flowers while mocking Gwendolyn, symbolizing London or the upper class, by calling her “common”. Through the setting Wilde wittily produces a comic effect by poking fun at the rich people of the Victorian Era.

Opening scene The opening scene begins in the city, specifically London, where the glamourous life style of the rich is prevalent. This is conveyed through Algernon relaxing with afternoon tea with a servant by his side, while playing the piano. This exposure of Algernon’s lifestyle is critical to the play as it contributes to the mockery of the rich. This is where the ridiculous characteristics of the elite are emphasized, while only caring about the materialistic part and not the realistic, they become selfish and possessive, for example Algernon demanding cucumber sandwiches and not sharing with Jack.

Ending scene The ending scene ends on a particularly happy note, where all the confusions and misunderstandings are cleared. Jack finds out about his family and he and Algernon will marry Gwendolyn and Cecily. This is an example of Miss. Prism acting as the deus ex machina, by suddenly resolving all the conflicts and bringing the happy ending that should occur in a comedy. But the real hidden meaning is placed in the fact that the lies and deception told by Algernon and Jack was left unpunished. With this type of ending, it reveals the purpose of the entire play, by exposing shallowness of the people of the Victorian Era being only concerned with appearances and not actions.

Symbols (3 minimum. Underline symbol and explain how/why it is a symbol, including the significance to the meaning of the work as a whole)

Cucumber Sandwiches: Cucumber sandwiches play a vital role in the beginning half of Act I, they are a snack that is enjoyed by Lady Bracknell but is consumed by Algernon when he refuses to share with Jack during their afternoon tea. This symbol has two meanings behind it. First, being that Algernon was supposed to reserve the sandwiches for his aunt but ends up eating all of them, then to go on blaming his butler for the lack of sandwiches on the plate. Algernon conveys the self-indulgence, selfishness, and possessiveness of the rich. Secondly, the sandwiches were made to seem that Algernon deemed Jack too low class to enjoy the same things he did.

Bunbury: Bunbury is a term that Wilde uses to criticize the hypocrisy of the rich in the Victorian era. The term is an action of deception to make it seem like a person is fulfilling an important duty, but the deception is instead used as a scapegoat from their duties. In the play, Jack and Algernon pretend to be this person along with a fake name, for their own personal amusement or enjoyment. In a way, Wilde seems to be mocking the degree of deception that Jack and Algernon seem to employ just to get what they want.

Fiction/ the diary: Fiction represents Jack’s entire life, that the role he has been playing has only been an allusion. Jack’s double-life draws suspicions, as Algernon believes he is pretending to be someone one he’s not, in this case, Ernest. The diary that Cecily keeps of her fictional dreams of romance establishes the unrealistic life that she wants to experience. In all, the fictionality of the characters and what they imagine themselves to want to be, expresses Wilde’s claim of when their imagination can suddenly become real. It also emphasizes the importance of when one has fictional thought, it is only right if they follow through with the fictional life one creates.

Thematic statements

  • Lies are not all that bad and sometimes can be more fun than the truth.
  • Societal expectations can affect what love is, sometimes appearing to be shallow.
  • Hypocrisy can end up becoming sincere and the lie becoming the truth.

Lady Bracknell

  • Major Character, Algernon’s aunt, Gwendolyn’s mom, the symbol of Victorian women
  • Lady Bracknell represents a very typical high-class Englishwoman, she places her values (style and money) before anything else. She wants only the best for her daughter and nephew by only allowing them to find a suitable person that is on the same social standing as them. This is ironic as she married into the upper class.
  • Snobby, materialistic, cunning

Gwendolyn Fairfax

Major character, Jack’s fiancé, Lady Bracknell’s daughter, Algernon’s cousin. She loves Jack only because she assumes his name is Ernest. Gwendolen is a prime example a London socialite, although she is timid around her mother, she is a bit rebellious. She is drawn in by Jack because of his name and so she is set on only marrying someone named Ernest which shows the superficial standards of the people during the Victorian Era.

Cecily Cardew

  • Minor Character, Jack’s ward, is in love with Algernon, keeps her romantic ideals in her diary.
  • Cecily is crucial to the story as she allows Wilde to convey the message of the difference of the city versus the country, where she is clueless to how society functions and what reality is. She writes her imaginative thoughts in a diary.
  • Delusional, superficial, romantic

Canon Chasuble

Minor character, a rector, has feelings for Miss. Prism On the outside Chasuble seems like a priest, but under the surface his beliefs or his devotion towards the religion is interchangeable and often mocking, just like the people of the Victorian Era. He is also very loyal to Jack and does whatever he orders him to do.

Miss. Prism

  • Minor Character, Cecily’s governess, previously worked for Lady Bracknell now works for Jack, has feelings for Chasuble.
  • Although Miss. Prism may seem very superior with the amount of knowledge she has, she is a cliché typical Victorian woman, who loses a child in a train station and has a flirtatious nature. She praises Jack because he’s respectable but bashes his “brother”. Her character is also as the poster child for moral righteousness in society, telling people to look on the realistic side rather than the idealistic (ex. Cecily).
  • Absent-minded, formal, rigid”
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Title: The Importance of Being Earnest. (2021, Mar 16). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/title-the-importance-of-being-earnest/